Her blue eyes widened with curiosity. “Of course. Shall we walk? It’s still light outside.”
Leo gave her a curt nod.
As the two oldest Hathaway siblings, Leo and Amelia had had their share of arguments. However, she was his favorite person in the world, not to mention his closest confidant. Amelia had a great deal of common sense, and she never hesitated to say what she thought.
No one had ever expected the pragmatic Amelia to be swept off her feet by Cam Rohan, a dashing Romany Gypsy. But Cam had managed to seduce and marry Amelia before she had quite known what was happening. And as it had turned out, Cam was able to provide the levelheaded guidance the Hathaways had needed. With his black hair worn a trifle too long and a diamond stud glittering in one ear, he was hardly the image of a staid family patriarch. But it was Cam’s unconventionality that allowed him to manage the Hathaways so adeptly. Now he and Amelia had a nine-month-old son, Rye, who had his father’s dark hair and his mother’s blue eyes.
Walking leisurely along the private drive with Amelia, Leo cast a proprietary glance at their surroundings. In summer, the Hampshire sun lingered until at least nine o’clock, illuminating a mosaic of woodland, heath, and grass meadows. Rivers and streams scored the landscape, feeding bogs and wet meadows teeming with prolific wildlife. Although the Ramsay estate was certainly not the largest in Hampshire, it was one of the more beautiful, with an ancient timber forest and three thousand acres of arable land.
In the past year Leo had come to know the estate tenants, he had made improvements in irrigation and drainage, repaired fences, gates, and buildings … and the devil knew he had learned far more than he’d ever wanted to know about farming. All part of Kev Merripen’s merciless instructions.
Merripen, who had lived with the Hathaways since childhood, had undertaken to learn as much as possible about estate management. Now he was intent on teaching this accumulated knowledge to Leo.
“It’s not really your land,” Merripen had told him, “until you’ve put some of your own blood and sweat into it.”
“Is that all?” Leo had asked sarcastically. “Only blood and sweat? I’m certain I can find one or two other bodily fluids to donate if it’s that important.”
But privately he acknowledged that Merripen had been right. This feeling of ownership, of connection, couldn’t be acquired any other way.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Leo let out a taut sigh. Dinner had left him restless and irritable.
“You must have had a row with Miss Marks,” Amelia remarked. “Usually you’re slinging arrows at each other across the table. But tonight you were both quiet. I don’t think she looked up from her plate even once.”
“It wasn’t a row,” Leo said curtly.
“Then what was it?”
“She told me—under duress—that Rutledge is her brother.”
Amelia glanced at him suspiciously. “What kind of duress?”
“Never mind that. Did you hear what I just said? Harry Rutledge is—”
“Miss Marks has been under quite enough duress without you adding to it,” Amelia said. “I do hope you weren’t cruel to her, Leo. Because if so—”
“I, cruel to Marks? I’m the one you should worry about. After a conversation with her, I usually walk away with my entrails dragging behind me.” His indignation doubled as he saw his sister trying to suppress a grin. “I gather you already knew Rutledge and Marks were related.”
“I’ve known for a few days,” she admitted.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“She asked me not to, and I agreed out of respect for her privacy.”
“The devil knows why Marks should have privacy when no one else around here does.” Leo stopped in his tracks, obliging her to stop as well. They faced each other. “Why is it a secret that she’s Rutledge’s sister?”
“I’m not certain,” Amelia admitted, looking perturbed. “All she would say is that it’s for her protection.”
“Protection from what?”
She shook her head helplessly. “Perhaps Harry might tell you. But I doubt it.”
“By God, someone’s going to explain it to me, or I’ll throw Marks out on her arse before she can blink.”
“Leo,” she said in astonishment. “You wouldn’t.”
“It would be my pleasure.”
“But think of Beatrix, and how upset she would be—”
“I am thinking of Beatrix. I won’t have my youngest sister being looked after by a woman with a possibly dangerous secret. If a man like Harry Rutledge, who has ties to some of the most nefarious characters in London, can’t acknowledge his own sister … she may be a criminal. Has that occurred to you?”
“No,” Amelia said stonily, beginning to walk again. “Honestly, Leo, even for you this is a bit dramatic. She is not a criminal.”
“Don’t be naïve,” he said, following her. “No one is exactly who he or she pretends to be.”
After a curtailed silence, Amelia asked warily, “What are you going to do?”
“I’m leaving for London on the morrow.”
Her eyes widened. “But Merripen is expecting you to take part in the turnip planting, and the fertilizing, and—”
“I know what Merripen expects. And I do hate to miss his fascinating lectures on the wonders of manure. All the same, I’m going. I want to spend some time with Rutledge and pry some answers out of him.”